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The Role of the PR Professional in Promoting the Performing Arts

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As a career, public relations for a non profit performing arts organization is likely to be exactly that for the practitioner definitely non profit (this is not a route to riches); a performing art in itself (ever try to juggle, tap dance, and sing at the same time?) and a job requiring nearly super human organizational skills. And yet, as anyone involved in arts administration knows, it is a field with many inherent rewards.

You Don't Really Have To Juggle

Seriously though, it is not necessary for a prospective candidate for this job to be proficient in a performing art to succeed. Nearly every applicant for the public relations department that I have interviewed over the years has professed a "love for the performing arts" some even go so far as to claim a "passion." Unfortunately, as a writer, I am used to being more discriminating with my adjectives. I am more impressed with the skills that candidates can bring to the job."

The arts, like other nonprofit institutions, are facing increasing competition for dollars raised in the public and private sectors. In addition, there is more competition for time from volunteers, from consumers, and from the media. To succeed in this increasingly complex marketplace, the arts need as many skilled and experienced professionals as they can attract.

Gone are the days when everybody's well intentioned aunt could dabble in the theater or the ballet by "getting out the publicity." Today, successful arts organizations hire trained professionals to direct polished marketing campaigns. There is still ample room for the dedicated bands of volunteers, as they are usually unsurpassed in the vital personal sales drives needed to boost subscriptions and program advertising. Nowadays, however, the volunteers are recruited and directed by professionals.

As in most professions, there is a certain amount of artistry involved in the public relations practitioner's job. There is certainly room for creativity in the performing arts promoter's role! It should be stressed, however, that basic skills are necessary in order to make the greatest getting some solid PR experience under your belt with a packaged goods company, a utility company or whatever will help you eventually land the financial PR job you want.

CYNTHIA DOYLE manages a communications unit in the Public Relations department of the Chase Manhattan Bank, the second largest bank in the United States. She began her career at Chase in 1984 as a communications officer assigned to the bank's technology unit, where she was responsible for internal and external communications.

Prior to Chase, Ms. Doyle was a senior account executive at the public relations firm of Lobsenz Stevens in New York City. She also served for two years as the press relations officer for the Canadian Bankers Association in Toronto, Canada.

Ms. Doyle got her start in the communications field in Houston, Texas, where she was the publications editor for the First City National Bank of Houston. She graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor's degree in communication arts.

But, perhaps most importantly, know where to go within your institution to get information know who does what in your bank. If a reporter calls with a question on commodity financing, know which manager to turn to for information. It's worth noting that banking is an extremely technical business, with specialists in everything from global telecommunications to investment banking products. Know where to go to get the information reporters need.

Rule Seven: Decide On the Size of the Organization You Want To Work For

It's probably safe to say that the smaller the institution, the greater your chances to perform a variety of communication duties. Larger institutions tend to have Communication departments staffed by specialists in everything from philanthropic activities to government lobbying. At a smaller institution, you may be more likely to perform more kinds of tasks. It's therefore important to analyze what size institution you'd feel most comfortable at and whether you'll have the chance to learn different communication functions in a larger company.

Rule Eight: Check Out the Reporting Structure

A criteria easily forgotten during a job search is how the Communication department fits in the general scheme of things. In other words, where does the department report within the institution?

If the top communications executive reports to the bank chairman's office, it's safe to say that the chairman has a real commitment to communications, holds what you do in high regard and will take a real interest in your projects. A department that reports to say Personnel or another administrative type function may get short shrift. That's not always the case, of course, but it's worth investigating how much commitment the institution does have to communications and how much your work will be noticed and appreciated by those at the top. How can you tell? One easy way is to measure the number of media mentions the institution receives, which, in turn, indicates the willingness of the bank's senior managers to talk to the press.

Rule Nine: Remember: It Is Who You Know

Your worth as public relations professional is in direct proportion to the number of press contacts you have. Obviously, when you're first embarking on a PR career, your media contacts will be few. There are several ways to "meet the press/' including cold calls and invitations to lunch, all of which you should expect to do when starting out in a PR career. But perhaps the best way to build a good relationship with the press corps is to be responsive to their needs, recognize their deadline constraints, and get your facts straight...right from the start.

Rule Ten: Persevere

If you can't find an entry level position in the financial services business, all is not lost. There are slots with PR firms that have financial institutions as clients, writing jobs with financial trade publications, and staff jobs with banking associations or state regulatory agencies. Simply once you land that first job, the reading never, ever stops. There are the morning newspapers to plow through, the daily clippings package to read and the nightly newscasts to monitor. When that reporter calls, you need to know the issues.

It's worth noting that it's not only your own mind you're trying to enrich with all this reading, it's your senior managers' as well. Of course, the daily clips package that the PR department compiles will keep senior management abreast of the day's news. But normally, only general interest banking articles are included in the clips distribution. Your senior operations manager may be interested in the article on technology you discovered in that obscure trade journal, for example. Or the manager in charge of your credit card operations may be interested in the article you found on a competitor's new marketing campaign. Send along these special interest articles to your senior managers. They'll appreciate being kept abreast of the latest news and will begin relying on you for their information.

Rule Four: Try Your Hand at a Number of Communication Responsibilities

The structure of the Public Relations department varies from institution to institution. While one public relations professional may primarily answer press queries, another may have speech writing and annual report responsibilities in addition to press contacts.

It's wise to keep yourself open to a variety of assignments. The greatest degree of career opportunity will come from working for a department that allows its staff to "cross train" compose a speech one week, write a magazine article another. The best way to know whether such opportunities exist is to show some initiative and ask.

Rule Five: Learn How to Juggle

This leads me to my next point about grace under pressure. While you're updating the biographies of your senior management team, scheduling interviews for a reporter who wants to talk to five executives on the importance of technology in today's banking industry, and trying to put some numbers together on a press release on your bank's newest mortgage product, you'll undoubtedly get a call: the chairman is visiting with a U.S. senator this afternoon and needs you to compile a major briefing paper for him. Within the hour, please.

You've got to be learning to handle pressure, think on your feet, and display an uncanny ability to juggle a number of assignments. A pressurized environment is simply part and parcel of any financial PR department.

As in any profession, one of the quickest ways to get to the top is to display the eagerness and ability take on a number of tasks at once and, in the meantime, to get a wealth of different communication experiences under your belt.

Rule Six: Learn Your Organization Inside And Out

A PR professional is the first person to whom the media and the public will turn to get basic information on the institution. Read your annual reports, know your organizational structure by heart and know the businesses in which your institution is involved.

If you're lucky enough to find a bank that does have an entry level position, it will most likely be either as an intern (short term, little pay) or an assistant to the senior public relations professional. Chances of landing either type of slot greatly increase if you can boast of some past communications experience working at the college radio station, writing for the student newspaper, even news writing you've done for a college journalism course. The type of experience you have is not as important as the fact that you have some that you've shown initiative in putting together a portfolio of work examples, and can actually point to some real successes.

The bottom line: Your chances of obtaining a position are virtually nil without some kind of work experience under your belt.

Rule Two: Be Willing To Do the Basics

There are a myriad of duties that are part and parcel of a Public Relations department at any bank or savings and loan institution. The more you're willing to do, the quicker you'll learn the ropes and the greater the chance that higher ups will take notice of your talents.

What kinds of duties should you expect to be asked to perform or ideally, could you ask to perform?

Any public relations unit worth its salt compiles a package of news clips, a collection of photocopied magazine and newspaper articles on the banking industry in general or their institution in particular. The package is distributed at least once a day to the bank's senior management. Performing the clip function i.e., reading the magazines and newspapers and clipping out pertinent items is truly the best way to understand the issues your industry is dealing with and to learn the names of the reporters on the banking beat.

Many institutions also subscribe to a news service, such as Dow Jones or Reuters, which continually transmits news items over a ticker tape. Again, reading the ticker on a half hour or hourly basis and clipping important items to send to senior management is a great way to keep on top of important news issues.

Other miscellaneous administrative duties could include accompanying news photographers on photo shoots, filling public requests for brochures and other materials on your bank, maintaining biographies of your bank's senior management or organizing press kits. All these functions are important to the running of the PR unit and will give you invaluable knowledge about your bank and its industry.

Rule Three: Read, Read, Read

Communicators, by their very nature, tend to be a well read bunch. It is absolutely critical that you regularly read the major daily newspapers, the various business magazines and specialized banking industry publications if you're to have half a chance of keeping on top of industry issues. Someone whose reading list consists solely of sports magazines will never make it in financial communications.

A common question at your first job interview will be "what do you read?" The interviewer isn't looking for a list of every newspaper and magazine at the local newsstand, but is trying to identify an interest in public policy issues (readership of one of the weekly news magazines), perhaps a particular interest and aptitude in business issues (reading the Wall Street Journal or one of the major business magazines), and some interest in professional development (reading a communications trade publication like PR Journal or a literary magazine like The New Yorker).
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